Essential SF: A Concise Guide

(2005) Jonathan Cowie & Tony Chester, Porcupine Books, pbk, circa 270 pages, ISBN 0-954-91490-2.

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Essential SF
A unique analysis of SF, never before done in book form, based on SF enthusiast, viewer and reader data

The genre of SF is so large, it is impossible for any person to have absorbed absolutely everything. So what are the essentials? Essential Science Fiction provides a core guide to the genre.

The criteria for inclusion in the guide are based on what the many (and not the compilers) consider best: 'the many' includes those numerous SF enthusiasts who vote for the Hugo novels and films, or Locus Awards, or who responded to the Blackwood film poll, who attended the Festival of Fantastic Films, or the countless whose purchases keep the works of authors three quarters of a century or more old still in print... And there are others still! These are 'the many'. They may include you, or they may not. Either way this guide is a systematic distillation of a mass of primarily Anglophone literature, cinematic production, TV series and graphic SF.

By definition more has been left out than included. Nonetheless anyone collecting just the works herein would find that their library had amassed video/DVDs of over 50 TV series and more than 200 feature films, while shelf space would be required for in excess of 500 books. Essential SF will be of interest to the seasoned enthusiast and invaluable to others wishing to identify the principal features of the genre's landscape.

"The world is sinking under the weight of science fiction. We call it 'Global Warning'. The mission of levity of the editors of Essential SF is to enlighten us, not with the oxygen of publicity, but with the helium of heterodox knowledge. The result is a bold success."
-- Brian Aldiss

"Unconventional, quirky, fact-filled. A highly personal, enthusiastic look at SF by true enthusiasts."
-- Harry Harrison

"Remarkably concise and lucid reviews and notes of the best Science Fiction."
-- Vince Clarke

"You can really learn a lot from all this info... This is a great book for every SF fan from the seasoned enthusiast to compare notes or (especially) for a newcomer to the genre who wants to make up some ground and get started."
-- The Contact SF Newsletter (link to full review)

"There are several brief introductions, and appendices of 'collector's core checklists' of books, films, and TV series. Selection criteria tend toward fan/reader awards, including the Hugos and Locus Awards... overall seems to be a reasonable overview for the intended audience."
-- Locus (link to full review)

"Take a huge group of Science Fiction fans. Ask them what they think are the most important books, films, tv shows and conventions. You'll get some strong opinions. Trying to come up with a "Greatest Hits" of any kind is difficult work, but the authors of Essential SF give it a shot... This guide deals with accessibility as well as popularity, omitting popular works that may be out-of-print or otherwise unattainable, and focusing on items that the new or inexperienced SF reader can easily obtain. I believe that's a good idea for a guide like this; all the description in the world isn't going to help you get your hands on a brilliant, award-winning novelette that is out-of-print. Save that kind of information for fans that already have a basic knowledge and want to search for a Holy Grail... Essential SF packs a lot of information into 268 pages. But it doesn't feel swamped by excess nor is it uselessly brief. It's a handy reference guide that can be picked up and leafed through anytime you need information about the most popular aspects of science fiction fandom."
-- The Green Man Review (link to full review)

"The book ends with a checklist of every work listed in the guide. This may be useful to a collector who is looking to complete their collection of science fiction... The small size of this book would make it easy for carrying to a bookstore or library to help in searching for something to read... Overall, this book would be useful for becoming familiar with science fiction."
-- SF Reader.Com (link to full review)

"For those on a budget, or the uninitiated who just want a good summary of What Has Gone Before, there's Essential SF: A Concise Guide..."   "[A] monumental task of filtering out everything except the most important and the most popular items..."   "99% of what makes it into the Guide is worthy, with accurate summaries of books, movies and TV shows - not to mention biographies of dozens of sci-fi celebrities. Also included is the Collector's Core Checklist that fans can use to get the most bang for their buck."   "Essential SF: A Concise Guide is an impressive achievement, and worth every penny. It's a reference that hits nearly all the high points, and should be considered an indispensable resource for both hardcore fans and newcomers."
-- Sci Fi Dimensions (link to full review)

"Hunt this small press title down if you can. It's a pocket-sized encyclopaedia of the diverse worlds of SF. It's one of about ten books that our reviews editor keeps on his desk for reference!"
-- SFX magazine (the review appeared in print in their Christmas 05 supplement)

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